LOS ANGELES --Among the U.S. troops risking their lives in military combat, the ACLU California reports there are untold numbers who serve with a secret. They are non-citizens such as retired Marine Daniel Torres, who was deployed in Iraq and swept for IED's.
"My company was able to find and destroy about 1,500 pounds of weapons and explosives during my deployment. I didn't want to be another Mexican taking somebody else's job. I wanted to do be able to say I had put in my 2 cents for this country," Torres said.
Torres was deported when his illegal status was revealed. To his surprise, he found a military support house in Tijuana, Mexico. There were dozens of deported veterans unaware of their eligibility to obtain U.S. citizenship or unable to challenge the system.
"Seventy-three percent of vets face deportation without a lawyer," co-author of the ACLU report, Jennie Pasquarella, said.
In 2002, President George W. Bush issued an executive order to fast track non-citizen service members. Yet according to the ACLU report released on Wednesday, many veterans fall through the cracks.
Some missed mail sent by the immigration office while they were in combat. Others were deported after convictions for non-violent crimes such as drug use.
In a statement, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service spokesperson Gillian Christensen said, "ICE specifically identifies service in the U.S. military as a positive factor that should be considered along with other factors in the totality of the circumstances when deciding whether or not prosecutorial discretion should be exercised. Still, and as the report acknowledges, applicable law requires ICE to mandatorily detain and process for removal individuals that have been convicted of aggravated felonies as defined under the Immigration and Naturalization Act. "
From Oct. 1, 2001, to 2015 the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service has naturalized 109,321 members of the military. The ACLU said deportation administrators were not asking about military service.
"So they can't even begin to exercise discretion if they don't actually know whether the people they are putting into proceedings are veterans," Pasquarella explained.
A new program was created to help with the issue as information on naturalization is now being provided at all military training centers.
Torres said with the help of the ACLU and Tijuana's Deported Veterans' support House, he became a naturalized U.S. citizen and a law student. He said many more deserve a chance.
"We can't choose the country where we were born, but we can choose who we are loyal to and we are loyal to the United States," Torres said.